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Wednesday
Jul052017

IM Austria (05.07.17)

11 weeks, 2xIM, 3x70.3 and 1x Oly distance races. It's been a very busy and thoroughly enjoyable 3 months of training and racing in Europe. IM Austria was another step in the right direction of getting stronger and faster through the season and it was a truly memorable experience in terms of racing the Pewag Team's 'home' race - they are an Austrian company who make industrial chains and are based in Klagenfurt.

I drove from St. Moritz to Klagenfurt on Thursday and spent the Friday with pro-briefing, training the course, catching up with the team manager and sorting through a few team related bits and bobs. I needed a new front wheel from 3T which they had arranged for me to pick up on arrival, and the team manager sorted me out with a new chain and 'tune-up' of the gears - thankyou Gerhard for your time and skills there! Ideally I would have these things sorted prior to arriving for a race, but if you can't, support from others is invaluable to save you running around and wasting energy before race day.  Since I'd been training at ~1800m in St Moritz, there is a time window for racing optimally and you typically want to race within 3 days of leaving a high altitude environment. After that there is a 'dulling' of your performance as your body is going through physiological adaptation to high oxygen environment again. Ideally I would have travelled on Friday but this wasn't possible, so by travelling on Thursday I was leaving it as late as I could as not to negatively affect my race performance.

Friday I also had two commitments with the team to spend time around the PEWAG expo' tent with sponsors, supporters of the team, elite and age group athletes. Furthermore, this gave me the opportunity to have a quick catch up with a couple of the other Pewag pro-athletes; Christian and Stefan were both racing and Marino, Michael and Beatrice were all able to meet up in Klagenfurt. Interestingly, I felt like I spent more time with some of the Elite Pewag Team athletes at this race than I had at either of the two training camps that we had been on together. So that was a really positive experience for me and I appreciate them taking time to chat with me as well! As pro-athletes we've not had the opportunity to meet with many of the sponsors so it was great to talk with 3T, Kinetic (turbo-trainers) and Castelli about the equipment and make personal contact beyond the social media and online interactions. I would have liked to have chatted some more, but of course I've also got 'race-brain' on and balancing the mindset of being focussed on being the best athlete that I can be on Sunday.

By Saturday though everything settled down and aside from a shake-out run, a splash in the lake, spinning the legs out on the bike and organising my kit in transition, it was feet up all day. General reflections on racing in at Ironman Austria in Klagenfurt were mixed. Undoubtedly it is a stunning race location, the organisers have invested a lot of time with the local communities (and vice versa!) in order that they work well together and put on such a hugely positive and supportive environment for the race. There was cheering and support at every village on the bike and run course, especially the hills and much of the road in-between. Community engagement and backing of a race doesn't 'just happen' and clearly this is a strong collaboration between the organisers and the state of Kärnten which I love. The downside for me was the impact that the AG (male) race has on the female pro race. I was caught on the bike at about 80km (by AG men) and they impacted the women's race from there on. It is a familiar problem that is easily rectified. Firstly, with a larger time gap between the swim starts of the two, It is light early and so it is possible to simply start the pro-races 10-15min earlier at 06.15/06.20.  Secondly, by fewer athletes on the course there will be less drafting for the AG men, and therefore they are slower round the course. Also, while it was a wetsuit swim, there were rumors of the rules being somewhat flexible (ie, the water was warm and the air temperature was warm) in order to make it a faster day... If you don't mind some flexibility in the interpretation of the rules, or if you want or don't mind drafting being a part of your race or your ironman 'achievement' it's a great event. If you are more idialistic about these things like me, perhaps consider this before you sign up for the race. The other positive was the organisation - registration was smooth, the expo' was extensive and it is all fairly centralised, on the lake shore and the run course is passing through several times, so there is a clear 'base'. All making it a great race environment for athletes and supporters. 

So how was the racing? Despite it being a wetsuit swim, it was a bit choppy and the swim times were not fast. I was out in 59.44, ~6min behind Michelle Vesterby and ~45s behind Eva Wutti. On to the bike and I was working hard from the get go. I was unusually thirsty and had drunk my front bottle within the first 30' so was already grabbing water at an early aid station. I normally drink all of my calories on the bike, but also always have a spare bottle in special needs and carry a spare gel or two incase of a drama or simply feeling like I can consume more calories. So I also took a gel quite early on in the bike, before resuming more drink based calories. This is not normal fueling for me, but there were no ill effects so that was good.

I paced lap 1 fairly consistently, the 2nd hour had slightly higher Watts than the 1st and there was not a huge amount of power or effort fluctuation aside from the descents. Lap 2 of the bike was a different story and required some mental and physical tactical decisions. When the AG guys came up they were a pack. No other way to describe it. The first few came through spaced out (legitimately) in a pace line, but then it was a mass of riders. Just prior to that point I'd been given a time split of 40s to Eva ahead of me, but as soon as the men came up, I knew that they would also catch her within a matter of minutes. This immediately annoyed the heck out of me. I say annoyed, that is putting it mildly. Use some swear words and you'll be closer to the mark. There was no effort of the AG men, with the exception of the front few riders, to space themselves out, and quite simply even if some of them had wanted to, they couldn't, there were too many of them on the course. I've been in AG men's race before, (Frankfurt springs to mind) so this is not a new experience for me, but this was definitely worse. It was clear to me that if I sat up and let the men pass, they would keep passing, and given that there are about 2600 AG athletes on the course, they would be coming through for the next 90km. That left me two options - 1) sit in and take full advantage of a free ride or 2) work to try and find myself a place in the front men where there were 6-8 of them riding legitimately or at least attempting to. I chose option 2. since it is usually safer to be around 'better' riders both in terms of accidents happening, and them self regulating their draft zones, so safer from penalties. The other reason was if the line did break and there was the opportunity to put some time into Eva that was where I wanted to be. I chose to race proactively in anticipation of making a gap, rather than sitting near or behind her and leaving all of the race to the run. As much as I have confidence in my run, I wanted to be pushing her and challenging her from in front - it makes more sense to me, to race this way. However, riding like this meant huge power surges on the climbs and when guys were passing and I had to re-pass to stay near the front. I was also quite vocal through the second lap. If a guy came past me and looked like he was going to 'slot' into the draft zone between me and the bike in front, I was calling out (with varying degrees of animosity) "keep moving" "it's not a gap" "keep passing" and to be fair, the majority of riders did move out and try to pass the rider in front as well. There were a few who feel that slotting in front of me where there was no space to do so, was fair game (yes Roman Seigmann of team X3 Austria - I'm including you since you dropped in infront of me at least 3 times and shrugged by way response to my calling out) or perhaps felt that I had no place there I just wanted to see me penalised. Who knows.

As 2nd rider in the women's race I had an escort motorbike by the side of me for 2/3 of the 2nd lap, also there was a media bike for significant periods of time, and I'd say there were course official's motorbikes in and around the front for 75% of the lap who were doing (I felt) a good job of whistling to try and get athletes to space out before they decided whether or not they were deserving of a penalty; so kudos there. It is mentally more challenging to race this way and physically more difficult as well. I remember doing a quick calculation on one of the climbs and realising that was pushing out around 6.5W/kg - and this was not a one off, it was multiple surges on climbs and passing. For reference over the bike course I'd normally be around 3.8-4.0W/kg, so to be spiking up at 5.8W/k repeatedly*, is no question going to affect my ability to run off the bike. 

With these tactics and efforts I managed a small gap on Eva by the end of the bike (3min or so I think), was ~6min back on Michelle and headed out on to the run with everything to race for. My run legs were sluggish after the surges on the bike but I started to find rhythm some time after Eva came past me (~12km). Her lead on me extended rapidly and I was getting very regular time splits so it was "20s Corinne"..."30s to Eva"... "40s"... "1min"... and it was quite simply fantastic support for me from Pewag out on the course. Eva and I had both passed Michelle and the gap (between Eva and myself) stabilised at about 90s, then I started to pull it back in and the time splits were in reverse - "50s... 43s.... 40s... 40s..." (I seemed to be at 40s for quite some time!) then down into the 30s and the 20s... but as the results show, I didn't quite make it. Eva pulled away again and stayed away until the finish. But it was great to be racing, to be pushing hard and be supported by so many on the course and at home who are willing me on! 

What's next? Well, after 2x 2nd place IM finishes, 4th in IM Cozumel and 4th at 70.4 Lisbon. I'm still not safely qualified for Kona. Depending on how other women race in July, I may make the cut off, or I may be bumped down and need to race again. I think I will race again anyway since it seems to be working well for me so far in terms of me managing my training load and progressing through the season. No decisions what or where yet, but I'll need to get entering in the next couple of days before the entries close.

Thanks for following and messaging me - the support is much appreciated!

                

*I've not done a full power analysis yet of my ride as I need to crop 5h at the end where I left the garmin running - so I know this is only a snapshot example and not very robust! 

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